Chinese comedians break tradition while splitting sides

Updated 2017-01-23 15:27:15 Xinhua

For more than a decade, "Xijiangyue" (stage name) has been consistent in one thing: making people laugh.

Xijiangyue is a stand-up comedian -- a rare thing in China, where comedians often entertain by juggling or "playing the fool."

In 2010, he started a stand-up comedy club in Beijing. Members perform in pubs, coffee shops and theaters on weekends.

He is one of a small but growing number of Chinese stand-up comedians, who number around 30 people.


In a humble coffee shop in a downtown art district, nearly a hundred people were gathered, including young couples, students, a few middle-aged men, and a pregnant woman.

Six performers walked on stage one after one, each performing for five to 10 minutes. The comedians came from all walks of life: lawyers, teachers, fitness instructors, scientists, computer programmers, and foreign students who have studied Chinese.

Xijiangyue, an engineering graduate, used to run a decoration company. His life completely changed in 2004 after watching an online video of U.S. comedian Chris Rock. Though he could not understand the jokes without subtitles, he was intrigued by the art and eager to try.

He had loved being funny since childhood. After months of imitating videos, he started writing jokes, poking fun at different comedy forms across China.

His debut was in a pub with only five onlookers. Only two of them laughed, "very politely," he said.

Almost all stand-up comedians have experienced this embarrassment. Some even joke about the humiliation.

"When there is only one person watching, it is not the performer but the audience member who feels more embarrassed," he said.

"Once, there was only a woman in the audience. She wanted to leave for a bathroom break, but was very shy to say. She looked at me, embarrassed, and I stared back at her. Then she said, 'How about I leave my cell phone here?'" Xijiangyue quoted, explaining that the gesture was an implicit promise to return.

"I was very afraid of losing my audience," he said.

He did not give up. The club always brings members together to discuss and rehearse. Some began reading professional books, while others loved to take notes about every funny or embarrassing moment of their lives, even while sitting on the toilet.

In the past six years, their audience has grown, and ticket prices for their shows have increased from 30 yuan to 120 yuan. Members also bring their performances to campuses, communities and the military in Beijing and other cities. Many fans have become comedians.


Many Chinese people have come to know stand-up through Chinese American comic Joe Wong, who was invited to speak at the White House Correspondents' Dinner in 2011. He became an instant celebrity after his 15-minute video swept Chinese social media. Though he spoke English with a strong accent, his speech made the American audience laugh, including Vice President Joe Biden. Some called him "the Yao Ming of Comedy."

Local media praised him for breaking foreigners' stereotypes of Chinese as unsociable, shy and lacking a sense of humor.

Xijiangyue loves stand-up because it allows performers to freely express their opinions, and people often laugh at opinions different from their own.

"When I was in school, teachers did not like students who had different views," he said.

Tony Chou, formerly an English teacher, is a bilingual stand-up comedian. He sees stand-up as the "rock music of comedy," because its content is critical and based in reality.

"Stand-up comics are not acting as somebody else, they are just being themselves," said Tony, who is the founder of another stand-up club in Beijing.

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